If the Met’s investigation of the suspected arson attack on the constituency office of Mike Freer MP on Christmas Eve has made significant progress, it has yet to be reported. We can be confident, though, that the incident will have done nothing to settle nerves among Jewish Londoners, especially those who reside in Freer’s Finchley & Golders Green seat.
No motive has been publicly ascribed to the attack but, unsurprisingly, there is speculation that it was connected to Freer’s long record of strong support for Israel and opposition to Hamas. If there is such a link, it won’t be the first time Freer, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, has been targeted for his views about Middle East affairs.
In October 2011, he was conducting a constituency surgery at a mosque when a bunch of men burst in and subjected him to abuse. Freer said one of them called him a “Jewish homosexual pig” before mosque staff escorted him to a different part of the building, where he waited behind a locked door until police arrived. He added that the incident followed a website called Muslims Against Crusades urging its readers to direct protests at him.
In April 2022, Freer revealed that in September 2021 his constituency office had been visited by Ali Harbi Ali, the man who one month later would murder Southend West MP David Amess. Freer believes that had he not been out at the time he might have been Ali’s victim instead. He told the Standard at the time that he and his staff had started wearing a stab vests.
Since the blaze at his Finchley office, Freer has told Sky News he still routinely does so when attending public events. “Sadly, I’ve had too many instances in the past where I’ve been attacked because of my views on the Middle East, but also many of my constituents have had similar incidents”.
Freer, who, by the way, is gay but not Jewish, was referring to the well-documented rise in antisemitic incidents of various kinds that occurs in Finchley & Golders Green following any escalation of Middle East hostilities.
The local manifestation of a national phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the constituency because nearly 21 per cent of people living there are Jewish – over 26,000 of its population of 126,100 according to the 2021 Census. In the famously Jewish suburb of Golders Green itself, the percentage is nearly half, as measured by the census breakdown of residents of the Golders Green electoral ward.
The surge in antisemitic incidents recorded by the Met since the Hamas atrocities in Israel of 7 October has included pro-Palestinian graffiti appearing on a Golders Green railway bridge. As Israeli forces continue and intensify their military assault on Gaza, killing many civilians, anxiety among Jewish Londoners – and Jews across Britain as a whole – will remain high for as long as others consider it somehow logical and justified to menace them in response to the actions of the government of a country thousands of miles away.
Whatever one’s opinion of Mike Freer or his opinions about the Middle East or anything else, the attack on his constituency office was yet another grim example of the dangers MPs and those who work for them face. If it turns out to have been motivated by a hatred of Jews, it will have been particularly so.
With a rise in offences agains Muslim Londoners too since 7 October, these remain testing times for community relations in the capital and worrying ones for all those most adversely affected. The ability of the city to accommodate human variety with ease is one of its most precious qualities. It must be diligently and protected throughout 2024 and beyond.
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